Not all new filmmakers get into the business of filmmaking to head a superhero or sci-fi film.
Some just want to tell a heartfelt story with all the seriousness of a drama like Cary Fukunaga who only decided to venture into filmmaking in his mid-twenties, slowing building up his repertoire as one of the rising names in Hollywood to look out for.
However, despite being in the industry since 2003, it was only last year when Fukunaga's name really got plastered all over the media via the success of HBO's original series' "True Detective" that starred Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.
Fukunaga's direction including the much talked about six minute single take tracking shot earned high praise and landed him an Emmy award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series.
Riding on the momentum with his pick of dark and serious subject matter, his latest directorial feature film "Beasts of No Nation" is no different. Only that this project seems closer to the director's heart as he had been researching and working towards exploring the child soldier theme for the past 10 years.
Adapting Uzodinma Iweala's book of the same name, and starring Idris Elba and child actor Abraham Attah, "Beasts of No Nation" was written, shot, produced and directed by Cary Fukunaga with Netflix acquiring the worldwide distribution rights for the film.
Cinema Online met the director at a press conference for "Beasts of No Nation" when he was down at the Tokyo International Film Festival to promote the screening of the film in the country.
What inspired you to make a movie following a child soldier?
When I went to film school I had this idea about child soldiers. I went to Sierra Leone in 2003 to do some research and in 2005 I read the book for the first time. I wanted to combine all my research with this beautiful tragic tale. That's what started this journey of making this film. It took about 10 years, but here we are.
What are your expectations for "Beasts of No Nation"?
It's hard to single out what are my expected audience experiences of watching this movie. Each individual would experience the film differently. If after watching the movie someone feels that they may have known this child and feel an emotional connection, then I feel like I have succeeded in carrying the message across.
Was the execution of the film different then from a cinema release since Netflix had acquired the movie?
The film was almost completed when the partnership took place with Netflix. The execution of the film wasn't different than what it would have been if it were for the big screen. But this immediate benefit of working with Netflix is that its 69 million subscribers. When making a story, you want as many people to experience and watch it.
How did you get around casting the main actor and the rest of the cast?
Once we decided that we were shooting in Ghana, we had to cast the locals. The children in the movie were all self-sourced. Although Ghana has a film industry, there is no pool of actors immediately available to pick from.
Basically, we sent scouts in the neighbourhood all around. Abraham Attah was playing soccer with some local kids after school. Our casting director was the one who spotted him. Thought he seemed kind of clever. He noticed Abraham had a big mouth. So the casting director went over and asked him if he was interested to act in a movie and audition. Initially, Abraham thought he was being scouted for a soccer team and he was surprised it was for a movie.
He's a smart kid and he worked really hard to try to get the role of Agu. It's a complicated role for a child because often times when you do roles for new actors their character is essentially the same. They're not required to play such a range like Agu who is different from the start of the movie towards the end of the movie.
Do you prefer making feature films or TV series?
In some ways they are both familiar. You may even call it a hybrid between the television and the cinema. Majority of the world have big screens in their home anyway. But the development production aspects are essentially the same when I frame "True Detective" or "Beasts of No Nation", I don't change my execution. But also, in terms of the difference – via the long format of television - you get to pace your characters. In a feature film there's a limitation of the 120 minutes format. With TV, which I prefer, you have 8 hours to tell a far better story. I don't know who decided 2 hours was enough for a feature film.
How do you judge the viewer response with Netflix?
I don't know if you know, but Netflix has a camera attached in your TV, we can watch you while you're watching the show.
Well anyway, there's a quote from a philosopher where he talks about the immortality of cinema. It doesn't matter where or when you watch a film, that film lives on and that's what's most important to me, that the film is continued to be watched over and over again.